Obscenity: Profanity and Nice Manners

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Kurt Vonnegut’s essay “Obscenity” manages to blend together satire, personal experiences, and Vonnegut’s dark sense of comedy into an off topic but interesting experience. With lines such as “I cannot believe that Victoria herself would have suffer a moment’s genuine dismay if I had shown her the picture of my asshole which I drew for my book Breakfast of Champions.” (4) That can make you wonder whether Vonnegut is actually intellectual or more visceral as the essay lunges towards its conclusion.

To start his essay, Vonnegut gives a brief summary of his mother-in-law’s background and how she acquired enough money to put her brother through medical school by writing a thesis on the Latin and Greek roots of common words in English. Right at the beginning, Vonnegut establishes himself as the authority and by talking about his personal life lets the reader know that the essay is going to be informal.

He continues the essay by stating, “I mention her in this chapter on obscenity because she imagined that I used certain impolite words in my books in order to cause a sensation, in order to make the books more popular. She told me as a friend that the words were having the opposite effect in her circle of friends, at least. Her friends could not bear to read me anymore.” (1) Here we see the first mention of the title of the essay. He mentions that, because of the obscenities he uses in his writings, his mother-in-law’s friend could not bear to read him anymore. Speaking personally, while obscenities are not very prevalent in modern writings, seeing them does not incline nor deter me from finishing them. Obscenities are just words that in society have been deemed “Bad” or “Curse” words, Vonnegut’s use of them was not the first time they have been added to writing and it will not be the last.

Further into the reading, Vonnegut begins to speak of his childhood and how what he has said has always been seen as obscene even by his parents. He talks of himself when he...
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